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Like most club-goers who crawl home during the wee hours, Sheldon Wilson can say he's street smart. But when pressed to spell "Wellesley" - a street steps away from his apartment - he blanked.

"W-e-s-e-l-l-e-y?" said Mr. Wilson, who was on his way home from Pride festivities. "No, I might be wrong."

He was.

Whether it's Masaryk-Cowan Park, Roncesvalles or Runnymede, urbanites like Mr. Wilson might want to start watching the streets with sharper eyes to prepare for Spell Check, Toronto's first annual spelling bee - for adults only.

As a fundraiser for Parkdale Project Read, a non-profit adult learning centre at King and Dufferin, the spelling bee is not just for bookworms.

"We will use words and sentences that reference local places of colour or local areas, possibly some Toronto people about town," said Alicia Merchant, 28, an editor and spelling-bee judge.

"It's like this other level of the game."

The event will take place on Thursday evening at the WhipperSnapper Gallery, a second-floor art gallery in Little Italy.

Up to a dozen contestants (19 and over) will be tested with a list of 250 words, which will be kept secret until then. The winner will score prizes from independent bookstores.

The Toronto adult spelling bee was inspired by a similar event in Philadelphia.

Spell Check co-organizers Josh Goodbaum and Jenna Mackay stumbled on it last summer:

"It was in a bar. It didn't look very serious," said Ms. Mackay, 23, a university student.

"We started thinking, that's a really neat idea," added Mr. Goodbaum, 24, who is starting teachers college this fall. "We just knew it would be something that would be fun to do in Toronto."

Local contestants like Robin Hatch are eager and serious about the adult bee. "Of course, I'm planning on winning," said Ms. Hatch, 20, who was a Spelling Bee of Canada champ as a child.

"I think everyone could use a little tune-up once in a while."

The spelling-bee fundraiser will help Parkdale Project Read grow - the $5 entrance fee and half of the cash bar will go to the centre.

"We always need learning resources, transportation, healthy food, more staff as it expands," said Nadine Sookermany, 38, the program's administrator. "We're finding the need is growing."

On a recent evening, the makeshift classroom at the centre's storefront was full, with a dozen students huddled around an oval table. One student was Hewida Abdelmoaty, who has been visiting the centre for two years.

"This is freedom for us," she said, raising her pencil. "I'm 42. It's never too late to learn. Nobody here could read before, now we are writing poems."

Thursday, 10 p.m. $5. WhipperSnapper Gallery, 587A College St. 416-887-7483.


Spelling Test

The wonky spellings of these famous people, places and landmarks can trip up even life-long Torontonians. In honour of Spell Check, Globe T.O. has compiled its own list of tricky-to-spell Toronto words:

RONCESVALLES: There's a reason people call it Roncey. It's easier to shorten the name of the west-end neighbourhood than it is to spell its namesake, a Spanish gorge and village.

WYCHWOOD PARK: It could have been the equally-difficult-to-spell Marmaduke Park - that's the first name of the painter who bought land in the area to set up an artists colony, which he named after England's Wychwood Forest. PRINCES' GATE: Frequently misspelled "Princess," the arch at Exhibition Place was named for royal brothers George and Edward, who opened the gate in 1927. GLENN DE BAEREMAEKER: The Scarborough city councillor says people have mistakenly twisted his Belgian name into "beer maker" "Diefenbaker" and "Glenda Baeremaker." HOGGS HOLLOW: The double-G is for James Hogg, the Scottish settler who in the early 19th century ran a grist mill and a whisky distillery in what is today one of Toronto's most affluent neighbourhoods.

GEORGE STROUMBOULOPOULOS: Another reason to abbreviate. Hence The Hour host's nickname, "Strombo." BABY POINT: Named for Upper Canada politician James Baby, the tony neighbourhood shuns the obvious, Coneheads-reminiscent pronunciation in favour of the less laughable "babby" (rhymes with flabby). YONGE: A nod to Sir George Yonge, a British secretary of war who never visited Canada. No self-respecting Torontonian would get this one wrong - spelling Toronto's main thoroughfare Y-O-U-N-G is worse than spelling two or more Toronto pro hockey players L-E-A-V-E-S.